Tunisia aims to be a logistical hub in the Mediterranean

Tunisian Transport Minister Anis Ghedira. (Tunisian Transport Ministry)

2017/04/16 Issue: 102 Page: 18

The Arab Weekly
Lamine Ghanmi

Tunis - Tunisia, seeking to take advantage of its geographical position in the western Mediter­ranean, plans to become a logistics and trading hub as part of broad efforts to upgrade its transport system, the country’s transport minister said.

“In Tunisia, the transport sector and logistics are at the core of the economic growth and trade… The sector contributes indeed to boosting exports, attracting direct foreign investments and improving the competitiveness of the enterprises,” Tunisian Transport Minister Anis Ghedira told The Arab Weekly.

Tunisia lies between Algeria and Libya on the western Mediterranean and it seeks to be an air transport hub and modern trading platform between southern Europe and Africa.

“In the new economic environment, Tunisia pursues the building of a new growth model turned towards expanding further its market economy, a better integration in the regional and world economies and higher added value of its economy,” Ghedira said.

“Within this framework, the transport sector and logistics play a central role in the country’s economic development and its integration of the regional economic environment.”

The Tunisian government, Ghedira pointed out, gives the “highest importance” to logistics by upgrading infrastructure, enhancing individual skills and developing proficiencies in the field.

“It (the development plan) has an objective to improve the attractiveness of the country’s logistics to make Tunisia a Mediterranean hub,” Ghedira added.

The Tunisian government considers expanding trade links with other Maghreb countries and its partners in Europe and Africa as crucial to economic and social growth.

The plans to develop transport and logistics are among policies being pursued by Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed to boost the country’s economic renewal.

Tunisia recorded some of the highest growth rates in North Africa and the Middle East in the two decades leading up to 2010, after which the country’s economy suffered from the repercussions of the 2011 uprising. Tunisia’s main transport enterprises endured higher costs and shrinking investments during 2011-15.

As a result, Tunisia’s international logistics performance index (LPI) ranking slumped to 110 in 2014 from 41 in 2012 and 61 in 2010. The biannual LPI, which left Tunisia at 110 in 2016, gives a comparative perspective among 160 countries. The World Bank’s LPI is an interactive benchmarking tool that helps governments identify challenges and opportunities in trade and logistics.

“We expect Tunisia’s LPI ranking to improve from 110 now to 60 in the year 2020 and to see the costs of logistics declining from 20% to 15% as part of the GDP,” Ghedira said.

He said he also expects outsourcing of transport and logistics to increase to 20% from the present 5%.

Ghedira said Tunisia has a new approach for state-owned transport enterprises.

“Several state enterprises of transport are experiencing structural difficulties,” he said, citing national airline carrier Tunisair and various national and regional land and rail transportation companies as examples.

“These companies need financing,” Ghedira said. “The massive scale of operating expenses particularly staff costs… account for 50% of total costs in 2015 compared to 32% in 2010. These increases stemmed from social demands after the revolution.”

State transport companies have drafted detailed restructuring plans to improve their financial situation and boost performance. The restructuring hinges on the companies’ commitment to cutting costs with the state ensuring financial support and business-friendly regulations, Ghedira added.

He gave no figures on the amount of financing needed to restructure the companies but other transport officials cited examples of the government’s struggle, one symbol of the country’s broader effort to solve its social and economic woes.

One such example: The number of the yellow buses — an emblem of Tunis city transport — shrank from 960 in 2010 to 300 now. Most of the buses are at least ten years old and city transport companies are finding it increasingly difficult to buy spare parts because of the worsening financial circumstances of the companies at a time when older buses need frequent repairs.

“The high road traffic in main cities is due mainly to the growing use of cars and following the inability of the current transport system to answer the growing needs of transport users,” said Ghedira.

The expansion of rapid train transportation and upgrading of the infrastructure of transport, including the rail network, are part of a “development of transport plan for 2016-20,” which would improve quality of service and traffic flow in cities, he added.

Lamine Ghanmi is a veteran Reuters journalist. He has covered North Africa for decades and is based in Tunis.

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